James C. Malin's Notes on the Writing of General Histories of Kansas

Notes on the Writing of
General Histories of Kansas
Section III

[Article Table of Contents] [part 2]


      On August 8, 1883, soon after receiving his personal copy of the History of Kansas, F. C. Adams wrote to Cutler reporting that he had tested it out for reference:

      It contains a vast store of information. If it contains errors, I have yet to find them. I speak of the general history and may say the same of the local history, so far as I have examined . . . those sections with whose history I am more familiar. In regard to the general work, I know of the methodical and laborious care with which you and your excellent lady pursued your investigations. The arrangement and putting in print of your work is not less admirable." [21]

      Seeing a copy of Adams' letter to Wilder about authorship, Cutler wrote Adams, September 13:

      "I merely want to thank you for the very truthful and frank letter which appeared in Wilder's paper of the 20th ult. You did what you could to put me and yourself right. Now, if you think it valuable, in a historic sense, to have deposited in your archives the list of writers of the "Big History," I will send you the whole thing. Of course, you can see that the reliability of the different parts of the "Big" must depend somewhat on its authorship, and, I consequently thought you, if nobody else, might desire to know exactly who wrote the book.

. . . I managed, in writing the history of Kansas, to get more than a passing interest in your work. It is plain that the history of the State is not yet written. The biographical portion -- really the most important, has scarcely been touched. The great bulk of what appears in "The Big" as Wilder calls it, should be put into good school history form. Nobody could do that better than you and Wilder. Then, the Annals should be continued, and the second volume would, I think, sell largely and make the first invaluable. To you, I suggest that you use my history for the future rather than for the past. Note each error as you discover it, so that whoever looks at the book may see the latest -- not only history as compiled by me, but every revision and correction that you can make. In that way, it seems to me, you might make the over bulky volume valuable. . ."

      In acknowledging Cutler's letter, September 17, as would be expected, Adams replied: "I shall be very glad to receive from you for our archives a list of the writers of the Big History. It will be very valuable, and always of interest as a part of the literary history of the State." Later in the same letter, Adams expressed his thanks for the suggestion about "noting corrections, if any need be, in the text of your history; also as to the school history. I shall heed both suggestions." [22]

      Following an exchange of letters in January, 1884, relative to the nondelivery of a copy of the history to a niece, Adams added a personal note to his letter of January 25: "The best critics speak well of your book. In every instance of adverse criticism so far as I remember, it has come from those whose biographies were left out. This is human nature of course." [23]

      A decade of silence was broken by Adams who wrote Cutler inquiring about authorship. Difficult to understand is the apparent lapse of memory on the part of Adams about the earlier correspondence on that subject and his failure to refresh his memory by consulting his letter files. Adams' letter was dated May 5, 1894, and Cutler, then in the wool business, replied May 8:

      "Your letter of May 5 has just reached me, and I am glad you appreciate the historical work we did. I can only testify to your full cooperation and help, after we knew each other. You remember that, quite early, you tried to head me off -- but, the cordial way in which you and your daughter treated us afterwards, and the warm friendship which followed, leaves that, to me, only as a joke, to laugh at.

      My wife died 3 yrs ago. I leave to day, for a Western trip, on wool business, so far personal.

      In regard to your inquiries regarding the history of Kansas:

      (1) I was the Editor in Chief, with head-quarters at Topeka --

      (2) The entire body of the STATE HISTORY was written by myself and wife. Also all the biographies of historical characters like John Brown, Lane, Robinson and others.

      My wife, MARY W. CUTLER, wrote the early history, including that of the Indians; Coronado &c. She was a better, and, I think a more conscientious writer of history than I could ever be.

      The county and town histories, which were subordinate, were written by, perhaps, a dozen different writers; all their manuscripts being revised, before sent to press, by myself and wife.

      My son, H. G. Cutler, was at Leavenworth, Atchison, and Wyandotte.

      S. S. PROUTY wrote the County, perhaps more than one, south of Topeka, where he formerly lived, and gave us much valuable information of his early days in Kansas, which was digested by us, and went into the general history;


      MR. J. C. HEBBARD assisted in several county histories, and, I think, wrote one or two entire, and sent me the copy, after I returned to Chicago. He was most excellent help to me, also, in gathering local statistics and historic facts about the county in which Topeka is (I have no map by me, and don't remember the name of the county). There was another Kansas man, who knew something about the Indian fights out west: I forget his name, who I hired to write a county out where he seemed acquainted.

      I think the A. T. Andreas pay-roll would give you the author of every county history. I have written all that comes to my mind, with no written data to which I can refer. --

      I send my warmest regards to you & daughter. If you ever have a World's Fair in Topeka, and I visit it, I shall see you, if you are alive. . ."

      In a postscript Cutler reminded Adams: "Soon after the History was published I sent you [a] list of writers on it. It is probably put away in some pigeon-hole." On the authority of this notation the present writer had the co-operation of the staff of the Kansas State Historical Society in a futile search for the missing list of writers.

      In his acknowledgment of July 8, Adams again revealed a striking deficiency in observation or in memory. He thanked Cutler for the information about:

      "the authorship of the different portions of your great history of Kansas, 1883. . . I did not know, however, of the full part taken in your work by your wife. I did observe that she was a most patient and attentive helper, but I so little cultivated an acquaintance with her, and saw so little of your work in your rooms that I would not know of the important and valuable help which your wife rendered, and which you so gratefully seem to remember.

      I look upon the period of your work here with pleasant remembrance. You did a good work. Your great book is a collection of the materials of Kansas history which will be consulted to the latest day." [24]

      Little additional information about authorship of the county histories has been collected, but more will be found from time to time in the newspaper files of the several counties. In addition to Atchison, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties, the son, H. G. Cutler, assisted in McPherson county, accompanied by Robert P. Dey. [25] The Marion Graphic, April 27, 1883, credited the writing of that county to Hubbard [Hebbard ?]. Sol Miller's contribution on proof reading, etc., has been mentioned for Doniphan county, and similarly revision by H. Miles Moore for Leavenworth county. James Hanway contributed to the Franklin county history.


      The contemporary reviews of "The Big History" were quite general in substance. Few Kansas editors of 1883 possessed the knowledge of the details of Kansas history sufficient to have undertaken specific criticism. Except for a few points, even Wilder did not undertake to evaluate particular facts and interpretations. At no time since then has anyone assumed the task of detailed examination. Such a project is scarcely appropriate now, but some rather general commentary is in order for two reasons. First, because the perspective of nearly three quarters of a century affords a basis for testing the soundness of Cutler's work. Second, in spite of 70-odd years, no single book or even limited number of books are available which displace it altogether. For the period really covered, the Andreas-Cutler history, with all its shortcomings, is still the least objectionable longer book available.

      Of the shorter books, L. W. Spring's Kansas, The Prelude to the War for the Union (Boston, 1885) still holds a similar qualified position. [26]

      By the end of 1882 when Cutler and his wife completed their sojourn in Topeka, the Kansas State Historical Society had made substantial progress in collecting historical materials of all kinds, but especially newspapers, manuscripts, and public documents, both state and national. From the first three Biennial Reports of the Society, covering the years 1877-1883, it is possible to reconstruct quite accurately just what was actually available to the Cutlers at that time. For example, the Society had received the following collections of manuscripts, either substantially complete or major installments of what are now found in those groups under the following names: Eli Thayer, Thaddeus Hyatt, George L. Stevens, Thomas H. Webb, W. B. Taylor, James Hanway, Isaac McCoy, Robert Simerwell, John G. Pratt, Joel K. Goodin, James B. Abbott, S. N. Wood, James Montgomery, John Brown, James M. McFarland, and William Clark.

      The Cutlers were the first to make use of these resources for systematic historical purposes, and they used them intelligently. As has been said earlier, in general Cutler followed substantially the traditional framework, but at this point the additional observation is in order, that he filled it in from these new materials in an authentic fashion that gave to Kansas history a substance not formerly present.

      The preliminary material in the Andreas-Cutler history dealing with the setting of Kansas history, based upon the inadequate knowledge available in 1882, has been superceded almost altogether. Recent geological knowledge is available in the publications of the State Geological Survey of Kansas, but of particular relevance here is John C. Frye and A. Byron Leonard, Pleistocene Geology of Kansas (1952). The geographical picture in modern form is found in Walter H. Schoewe, "The Geography of Kansas." [27] The anthropological and archeological background of the prairie and plains between the Mississippi river and the Rocky mountains may be most effectively introduced for Kansas readers by the work of Waldo R. Wedel. [28]

      The Coronado story has undergone several transformations since Cutler wrote, using the J. H. Simpson version as his guide. 'The most recent revaluation is that of H. E. Bolton, Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains (New York, 1949).

      The ecological setting of the grassland and the manner in which the Eastern American forest men met this environment, which was strange to them, receives attention in several works by the present writer. [29]

      The writing of the history of the United States has changed substantially since Cutler wrote his section on the national background of Kansas. That revision as it related to Kansas history owes much to the work of Frank Heywood Hodder (1860-1935), a professor at the University of Kansas, 1891-1935. [30] Focusing his reinterpretation of American history upon the career of Stephen A. Douglas, Hodder showed that his controlling interest was the organization of Western territory "as an indispensable necessity to the development of the country." Douglas sensed the revolutionary importance of steam railroads to the interior communications of a large continental landmass such as the United States, and urged the construction of a railroad to the Pacific ocean by a central route. The accomplishment of that objective required the organization and settlement of the Indian country along the route. Douglas campaigned for those objectives from 1844 to 1854. Also, Douglas advocated local self-government and co-operation of states in regional affairs as an offset to the growing tendency toward national centralization of power. He insisted that popular government was grounded in the locality. These principles provided the background for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, with its "Popular Sovereignty" clause, and for Douglas these principles, not slavery, were the real issues of the day. [31] The newer point of view applied to the administrations of Pierce and Buchanan, 1853-1861, is treated best in Roy F. Nichols, Franklin Pierce (Philadelphia and London, 1931), and The Disruption of American Democracy (New York, 1948).

      Kansas history proper, as differentiated from background, began in the Cutler book at page 81. The story was told in a factual manner, with the liberal reprinting of original documents or extracts from them, and with the minimum of personal interpretation. In accordance with the prevailing point of view the territorial story was told almost exclusively from the Free-State side. Leavenworth, for instance, was sacrificed to Lawrence even for the Free-State story. The convention era of 1855 during which the Free-State party and the Topeka statehood movement were launched ignored important factors. This story needs revision to recognize the role of J. Butler Chapman, J. H. Stringfellow, Josiah Miller, and R. H. Elliott. Also the Topeka Constitution needs re-evaluation. [32]

      The Lecompton Constitution movement and the English bill have been reinterpreted by F. H. Hodder, showing that the bribery story is untenable. [33] The admission of Kansas into the Union and the organization of the state government under Charles Robinson as governor, is told in modern form in G. R. Gaeddert, The Birth of Kansas (Topeka, 1940). The John Brown story is told in Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six, based upon altogether new manuscript material as the point of departure from the traditional factual structure of the activities of Brown. In this new context the Pottawatomie massacre was political assassination.

[21] Extract from K. S. H. S., "Outgoing Correspondence," v. 7, pp. 468. 409.

[22] Ibid., v. 8, p. 29.

[23] Ibid., v. 8, p. 308.

[24] Ibid., v. 38, p. 324.

[25] McPherson Independent, November 22, 1882.

[26] Spring's book has been placed in its historic perspective in Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six, chs. 19, 20.

[27] In three parts (four installments), Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, Lawrence, v. 51, pp. 253-288; v. 52, pp. 261-333; v. 54, pp. 263-329; v. 56, pp. 131-190.

[28] Waldo R. Wedel, "Some Problems and Prospects in Kansas Prehistory", The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 7, pp. 115-132; "Prehistory and Environment in the Central Great Plains," Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, v. 50. pp. 1-18; "Environment and Native Subsistence Economics in the Central Great Plains," Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, v. 101, No. 3; "Culture Chronology in the Central Great Plains." American Antiquity, Salt Lake City, v. 12, pp. 148-155.

[29] Malin, The Grassland of North America: Prolegomena to Its History (Lawrence: The author, 1946); Grassland Historical Studies . . . ; volume I, Geography and Geology (Lawrence: The author, 1950); Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas (Lawrence: The University of Kansas Press, 1944). The first chapters of the last named book were first published in The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 11, pp. 370-398; v. 12, pp. 58-91, 158-189.

[30] The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 5, pp. 115-121; v. 8, pp. 227-237.

[31] For a further development of these principles, see James C. Malin, The Nebraska Question, 1852-1854 (Lawrence: The author, 1954).

[32] Cf., the short statement on these points in the first essay in this series, The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 21, pp. 205-210. A longer version is in James C. Malin, "The Topeka Statehood Movement Reconsidered: Origins," in Territorial Kansas: Studies Commemorating the Centennial (Lawrence: The University of Kansas Publications, Social Science Studies, 1954). Other essays in this volume, Territorial Kansas, each by a different author, deal with topics that received scant if any attention from Cutler.

[33] F. H. Hodder, "Some Aspects of the English Bill for the Admission of Kansas." Collections of the K. S. H. S., v. 10, pp. 224-232.

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istory] [Andreas' His

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